What is non-verbal communication?.
Non-verbal communication is an umbrella term used to describe the general act of conveying information in ways other than verbal language. This can include tone of voice, facial expressions, posture, gait, gestures, etc. Some non-verbal behaviours can occur simultaneously or separately, with or without speech, during an interaction or when we are alone, with or without our awareness.
Dr. Ekman’s research has focused on non-verbal behaviours in relation to our emotions and deception. Specifically, the studies explored how our facial expressions and gestures give away certain signals.
What does non-verbal behaviour reveal?.
When we interact, our non-verbal behaviour may or may not be coordinated with what we are saying. In several cases, our non-verbal behaviour may have specific or generalised meanings, and may emphasise, contradict, aid in interpretation or bear little relation to our verbal statements.
Experts from fields ranging from the visual arts to the social sciences have provided various explanations of what can be revealed by our non-verbal behaviour. These notions range from providing qualifications on how a verbal message should be interpreted to the firm belief that this mode of communication reveals a more authentic – some say primitive – side of ourselves.
Recognising the validity of both, Dr. Ekman’s research has focused on finding the middle ground: how emotions are revealed and hidden through our non-verbal behaviours, and distinguishing which aspects are culturally contextual, which are universal, and how both can interact with our individual traits.
Is non-verbal communication universal?
While there are universal facial expressions of emotion, there are no specific body movement patterns that always signal a specific emotion or meaning. Unlike the seven universal emotions (amusement, sadness, disgust, anger, fear, contempt and surprise), our ‘body language’ lacks the power associated with universality.
Our interpretation of any non-verbal signal, therefore, always depends on the context; taking into account not only our individual differences, but our cultural and social differences, as well as situational and environmental variables.
FREELY TRANSLATED BY PAUL EKMAN GROUP